Strange Bedfellows Among the Yippies

As a co-founder of the Yippies (Youth International Party) with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in 1967, I observed how they were able to manipulate the media to further their antiwar mission. If you gave good quote, you got free publicity. Furthermore, in a tactic borrowed from the CIA, if you presented newsworthy street theater, the media manipulated itself. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your agenda, that kind of behavior has a way of backfiring. And so I was both amused and annoyed by an item in the "Inside the List" column by Dwight Garner in the August 13 edition of The New York Sunday Times Book Review. He wrote:

"Thomas Ricks, the senior Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Post, has a book on the hardcover nonfiction list this week--his 'Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq' (Penguin Press) makes its debut at No. 1. Ricks's book got a boost from strong reviews and from appearances on both 'The Charlie Rose Show' and NPR's 'Fresh Air,' where Terry Gross interviewed him on two successive days. Ricks is a fleet, vivid writer, but he's also got a gift for radio. On Fresh Air, he filled the air with analogies that were funny, sad and apt, sometimes all at once. George Bush and his team were like '60s radicals. ('They really were going to, kind of, "groove on the rubble," as Jerry Rubin used to say. They were going to tear it down and see what happened.')"

Of course, glibness is not necessarily a virtue. "Has it come to this?" asks anthropologist and Yippie archivist Samuel Leff. "With the Iraq war now an obvious catastrophe, Ricks is comparing the Bush gang's mindless destructiveness to '60s radicals like Rubin? The destruction of democracy, then and now, emanated from a radical Oval Office. Richard Nixon put thugs to work breaking the noses of protest leaders, from Abbie Hoffman (successful) to Daniel Ellsberg (unsuccessful)."

From the Nixon tapes:

President: "Aren't the Chicago Seven all Jews? [Rennie] Davis is a Jew, you know."

Haldeman: "I don't think Davis is."

President: "Hoffman, Hoffman's a Jew."

Haldeman: "Abbie Hoffman is..."

President: "About half of these are Jews."

Anthony Summers' book on Nixon, "The Arrogance of Power," includes a photo of Hoffman with his nose bandaged, being taken away by a suit from his apartment. The caption reads, "In 1971, Nixon and Haldeman discussed using Teamster thugs to beat up antiwar demonstrators and smash some noses." Two days earlier, they had broken the nose of Abbie Hoffman. 'They got him,' Haldeman now told the president."

In the August 17 issue of The Los Angeles Times, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg--in an op-ed piece titled "Who Are You Calling a Fascist?"--wrote:

"[I]n the mouths of the neocons, 'fascist' is just an evocative label for people who are fanatical, intolerant and generally creepy. In fact, that was pretty much what the word stood for among the 1960s radicals, who used it as a one-size-fits-all epithet for the Nixon administration, American capitalism, the police, reserved concert seating and all other varieties of social control that disinclined them to work on Maggie's farm no more....Time was when right-wingers called the ACLU a bunch of communist sympathizers. Now Bill O'Reilly labels the group and others as fascist, with a cavalier disregard for the word's meaning that would have done Jerry Rubin proud."

Leff comments that, "If Nunberg had been thrown down the stairs, as Rubin was, by the New York City Tactical Police Force--a Waffen SS-type goon squad of especially large men in uniform--who raided his apartment looking for drugs on secret orders from the FBI, Nunberg would have less 'cavalier disregard' for using Rubin's name in the same breath as the authoritarian fascist personality of Bill O'Reilly."

On August 20, Frank Rich wrote in his New York Times column:

"The hyperbole that has greeted the Lamont victory in some quarters is far more revealing than the victory itself. In 2006, the tired Rove strategy of equating any Democratic politician's opposition to the Iraq war with cut-and-run defeatism in the war on terror looks desperate. The Republicans are protesting too much, methinks. A former Greenwich selectman like Mr. Lamont isn't easily slimed as a reincarnation of Abbie Hoffman or an ally of Osama bin Laden."

Yeah, right. It was bad enough that a brainwashed American public would even have believed Bush administration propaganda that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were married in Massachusetts and then adopted a Chinese baby. But Hoffman was a defendant in the Chicago Conspiracy Trial for what the official "Walker Report" described as "a police riot," and bin Laden was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, however, in the guise of history, they've been paired. Abbie and Osama, together again.

I have not been immune to such incongruous couplings myself. The late Harry Reasoner, who was an ABC News anchor and a "Sixty Minutes" correspondent, wrote in his 1981 memoir, "Before the Colors Fade":

"I've only been aware of two figures in the news during my career with whom I would not have shaken hands if called to deal with them professionally. I suppose that what Thomas Jefferson called a decent respect for the opinion of mankind requires me to identify those two. They were Senator Joseph McCarthy and a man named Paul Krassner or something like that who published a magazine called 'The Realist' in the 1960s. I guess everyone knows who McCarthy was. Krassner and his 'Realist' were part of a '60s fad--publications attacking the values of the establishment--which produced some very good papers and some very bad ones. Krassner not only attacked establishment values; he attacked decency in general, notably with an alleged 'lost chapter' from William Manchester's book, 'The Death of a President.'"

I appreciated Reasoner's unintentional irony--having started my career as a political satirist poking fun at McCarthyism--but I resented being linked with McCarthy. He had senatorial immunity for his libels. I risked lawsuits for what I published. What I really wanted to do was crash a party where Reasoner would be. "Excuse me, Mr. Reasoner," I would have said, "I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your work on 'Sixty Minutes.'" And then, as a photographer captured us shaking hands, I would add, "I'm glad to meet you. My name is Paul Krassner or something like that." Instead, in 1984, when my one-person show opened at the Wallenboyd Theater in downtown Los Angeles, I decided to call it "Attacking Decency in General." The show ran for six months, and I received awards from "Drama-Logue" and the "L.A. Weekly.'" That was my style of revenge.

Decency is, of course, a sublimely subjective perception. And so arbitrary. In 1964, Lenny Bruce was found guilty of an "indecent performance" at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village. In 2003, New York Governor George Pataki granted Bruce a posthumous pardon--but in the context of justifying the invasion of Iraq. "Freedom of speech is one of the great American liberties," Pataki said, "and I hope this pardon serves as a reminder of the precious freedoms we are fighting to preserve as we continue to wage the war on terrorism."

Earlier that year, when rock star/activist Bono received an award at the Golden Globes ceremony, he said, "This is fucking brilliant." The FCC ruled that he had *not* violated broadcast standards, because his use of the offending word was "isolated and nonsexual." You see, it was merely an adjective. But then Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast during the halftime extravaganza at the Super Bowl. I had never seen the media make such a mountain out of an implant. The incident served as an excuse to crack down on indecency during an election year. So, in 2004, the FCC reversed the Bono decision, contending that his utterance was "indecent and profane" after all. What's next, as a monument to the art of pandering, will Governor Pataki revoke his posthumous pardon of Lenny Bruce?

When I told Abbie Hoffman that he was the first one who made me laugh since Lenny Bruce died, Hoffman said, "Really? He was my god." The combination of satirical irreverence and sense of justice that Bruce and Hoffman shared was the real spirit behind the Yippies--a term I coined to describe a phenomenon that already existed: an organic coalition of stoned hippies and political activists who engaged in such actions as throwing money on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, then explaining to reporters the meaning of that symbolism. Folksinger Phil Ochs summed it up: "A demonstration should turn you on, not turn you off." So when journalists link the Yippies with misleading bedfellows, at best it's careless shorthand; at worst it's deliberate demonization. Osama bin Laden wanted an aircraft to crash into the Pentagon. Abbie Hoffman merely wanted to levitate it.
Paul Krassner's latest book is "One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist," available, along with the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, at